Last Saturday night I left our family vacation early and returned home to preach services on Sunday at church. I said goodbye to my two girls and Blair who were in our mountain home in North Carolina. My mother was with us too and friends.
“Why does daddy have to leave?” asked my seven year old daughter Bethany.
“Well daddy’s got to work tomorrow,” Blair said.
Even our dog came around the driver’s side and stared at me with a sad look. I drove the three hours home through the twist and turns of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I pulled into our home in Atlanta around 11am and fell asleep with the Winter Olympics still on television.
The next morning, I led the service and it was a decent crowd for a holiday weekend. Blessed are the members who show up to church on a holiday. It’s a good thing I returned. We had a lot of staff out and our assistant minister fell ill and couldn’t make it. She was supposed to do the children’s message and so it fell to me. I grabbed some whiffle balls from our recreation closet and did my one trick for the kids. I juggled to their delight. It reminded me of David Letterman’s old segment, “Stupid Pet Tricks.” The lesson was on forgiveness. I told them juggling did not come naturally. I had to practice all summer. The same is true of Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness. It doesn’t come naturally. You have to practice.
After worship, I lingered and spoke to folks for an hour or so. I packed my things and I ran into Wally, a devoted staff member, who was locking the church doors.
“You heading back up to the mountains?”
“No. I’m heading home. It doesn’t seem worth it to drive three hours up there and have to turn around tomorrow and drive back.”
Wally didn’t say anything, but he gave me a look that I couldn’t shake.
I drove back to the parsonage. I looked for lunch. There was very little in the refrigerator. I thought about taking a nap and punching away at some emails. But then I started wrestling. The church was closed for President’s Day on Monday. My mother was cooking her famous spaghetti and they were celebrating a birthday as well that night. And if I left then, I could be back with my family before 5 o’clock. Besides my toiletries, I hadn’t unpacked my suitcase. I threw it all in the Prius and headed up I-85. Blair called me on the drive. I didn’t tell her I was on the way.
“Will, whatever you do tomorrow, don’t get caught in emails. If it’s work, do dreaming work. And if you happen to trip and do the laundry, that’d be ok. And if you find yourself on the border of North Carolina and Georgia, I wouldn’t be sad if you came on up.”
I never gave any hint I was on the way. My mother told me earlier they were going to Mast General Store in Waynesville that afternoon.
I did church calls on the drive and pulled into Waynesville around 4:30pm. I drove through downtown and spotted our van. I wanted to surprise them. I packed and checked Mast General, especially the toy and candy section. They weren’t there. So I walked up and down the sidewalks and checked every home decor store and chocolatier I passed. Nothing. I was about to give up on the surprise and call them. I checked Mast General one more time. And there they were looking at t-shirts to purchase.
They spotted me and when I connected my eyes with my seven year old, she dropped her shirt on the hanger and jumped into my arms.
“Dad.” She would pull away and look at me and then hug my neck again still in disbelief. “Dad.” Blair was almost in tears. Katie hugged me. I said, “I didn’t want to do the laundry. And how could I miss mama’s spaghetti?”
We sometimes ask these questions, “What makes it worth it?” And thanks to Wally in that moment I knew.
In the book of Galatians, Paul once used a curios phrase to describe time: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,” (Galatians 4:4). The word for time is ‘kairos’ which is not chronological time, but God’s special time marked by a different quality of existence. It’s the coming together of all of God’s plan and people. When people were with Jesus, they felt ‘kairos.’ And as our family slurped spaghetti around our mountain house table with special friends, and my mother and blew out brownies slathered in icing, it was evident we found God’s fullness of time together. Thanks God, and Wally.